LONDON -- The British government used its powers to preserve the nation's cultural treasures on Monday to halt the export of a tattered paperback copy of "Lady Chatterley's Lover."
The copy of the once-scandalous book was used by the judge in the U.K. obscenity trial of Penguin Books. Penguin was prosecuted in 1960 for publishing D.H. Lawrence's novel about an affair between a wealthy woman and her husband's gamekeeper, a landmark in the frank literary depiction of sexuality.
A prosecution lawyer infamously asked in court whether it was "a book that you would ... wish your wife or your servants to read?"
It took jurors just three hours of deliberation to find Penguin not guilty, and the case is regarded as a landmark victory for freedom of speech and a sign of changing social mores.
The copy used by judge Laurence Byrne contains notes by his wife Dorothy detailing the explicit passages, and a hand-sewn damask bag designed to stop photographers snapping the judge carrying the scandalous tome.
It was sold to an anonymous overseas bidder at a Sotheby's auction in October for 56,250 pounds ($73,000).
The government's decision halts the export for several months to see whether a buyer can be found to keep it in Britain.
Arts minister Michael Ellis said the Chatterley trial "was a watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude."
"I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this important part of our nation's history in the U.K.," he said.